South Africa’s leading entrepreneur of 2017 revealed

Creating, growing and innovating a business to such a degree that a new market and industry is created is no easy feat and demonstrates many qualities of a remarkable entrepreneur.  It is thereby no surprise that Willem van der Merwe, of Africa Biomass Company (ABC) has been named this year’s overall winner in the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, as announced at the awards ceremony held in Johannesburg on 6 September 2017.

Not only did van der Merwe capitalise on a gap in a market, he also innovated in such a way that he was able to earn additional revenue for a service he was originally being paid for.

ABC are the country’s leading experts in land clearing, wood chipping, and wood recycling. The business revolves around the novel concept of grinding up unwanted trees on site, with the use of wood chipper machines, in order to create biomass – a renewable source of fuel to produce energy. This biomass is then either sold back to the site owner or onto a secondary market, thereby essentially generating value from waste wood.

This resourcefulness stood out to the judging panel. “Willem is supplying an excellent service – that of removing unwanted trees – however, he has taken this idea one step further by creating something useful out of these trees. He is therefore not only getting paid to supply a removal service, but is also able to capitalise on that service by reselling what he has removed. This is true entrepreneurship.”

What further set van der Merwe apart from other finalists is that the existence and success of ABC are based solely on innovation, remarked one of the competition judges. After studying what was being done in other, more developed countries, van der Merwe introduced the idea of wood recycling to South Africa, starting it from scratch and essentially creating a brand new industry. Having patented and built over five machines designed specifically for wood waste, ABC remains the only company in South Africa that specialises in this service.

On being named this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year®, van der Merwe says that he is both humbled by and grateful for the opportunity. “It is always so great to learn from other entrepreneurs, so to have the opportunity to network with others in a similar position to our business has been a wonderful experience.”

For more information on Africa Biomass Company, please visit:

Building jobs from the ground up

Africa Biomass Company (ABC) was established by Willem van der Merwe in 2004 originally as a specialist, high risk tree felling company with wood chipping as a small sub-division. However, after realising that it was common practice for unwanted trees to be cut into fire wood and sold or discarded in a municipal dump, van der Merwe discovered a gap in the market and jumped at the opportunity to repurpose his service to offer land clearing and waste wood recycling in order to produce biomass.

“In the forestry industry, when the wood from trees is harvested, more than 45% of the tree is wasted,” explains van der Merwe. With this in mind, he came up with the idea for his business – capitalising on wood that was not being utilised and repurposing it in hopes of minimising its effects on the environment.

In 2007, offering a viable and eco-friendly solution for unwanted waste wood became the main focus of the business, and from 2009 it expanded by 30% growth per year. Fast forward to 2017 and ABC is still one of the major role players in the industry. Because of this, the company has been named the authorised dealer for Bandit Industries – one of the largest manufacturers of waste recycling equipment in the world and marketed in over 120 countries.

Van der Merwe has also taken up the opportunity to assist large fruit farming enterprises across Southern Africa with the recycling of their crops – a massively sustainable market in need of environmentally friendly wood recycling solutions. “As a permanent crop typically has a lifetime of around 15-25 years, a farmer usually needs to replace about 4-5% of his production area every year,” explains van der Merwe. “In order to assist, we remove the necessary section of the orchard, recycle it and present the recycled biomass back to the farmer. If the waste wood is unwanted, we transport it from the site to avail it for other potential buyers.”

ABC does not only aim to save the planet one tree at a time, van der Merwe’s goal is to better the lives of his staff by training and upskilling them and ultimately placing them in a department within the business in which they excel. “At ABC we believe in the concept that the standard of living of each employee should be improved by the fact that he or she is part of our team. This is achieved through training, teambuilding and a healthy work environment,” adds van der Merwe.

Acknowledging that none of his employees previously possessed the skills required to perform the job, since ABC is the first of its kind in the industry, van der Merwe is committed to train his staff and create employment.
Considering the 130 jobs that have been created at ABC, van der Merwe says he will only recognise himself as being a success if he can ensure that ABC has added value to each of his employees’ lives since they started at the business.  

Willem van der Merwe is a finalist in the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on his business, please visit the Africa Biomass Company website: